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By Alexis Brudnicki
In its inaugural season, the Canadian Premier Baseball League crowned its first champions at the two highest divisions on Sunday afternoon, with the Ontario Blue Jays coming out on top of the Toronto Mets at both the 16U and 18U levels.
The Ontario Blue Jays Travers squad, one that finished atop the 16U regular-season standings with a 28-3 record, took down the Toronto Mets Orange squad 6-3 at Bond Park in North York to capture the division after continuing its strong run through the circuit’s playoffs.
“This was probably the best group of competitors that I’ve ever had, one through 19, they just competed every day,” said Sean Travers, the director of player development for the OBJ program and head coach of the championship 16U squad. “Everybody just contributed. It was a team based around starters. All 19 guys contributed and all 19 guys fought the entire game.”
During a season in which Travers saw his team go from being “guys who played baseball to baseball players,” he found that the way they clawed back in a tough final matchup against the Mets – who finished the regular season with a 17-11 record – was a fitting end to how they played their entire summer.
“It was their absolute fight that made me most proud,” Travers said. “They never gave up. For the first two weeks of our road trip, we only had 16 players, so guys were playing all the time and nobody ever quit the entire year, and then the final game was kind of like a summary of our whole season.
“We got down three to [Mets hurler, Canadian Junior National Team member and Pickering native] Landon Leach and against 16-year-olds, three runs for Landon Leach should be enough, but our guys kept fighting and fighting and fighting. They got back in the game, the little guys got on…the big guys drove them in, and that’s the way all good teams at any levels are.”
With an incredibly well-rounded lineup and staff, including Leach’s Team Canada teammate and Torontonian Harley Gollert, who threw a complete game for the OBJ squad in the win, Travers had tough decisions to make all season long, trying to get everyone out on the field as much as possible.
“As a coach, it makes it harder,” he said. “There are 13 guys who should be in that starting lineup every day. As a coach, when you can go with the hot hand it’s easy, when you just have those eight guys to choose from. But there are 12 or 13 guys every day who deserved to be in that lineup, so it makes my job hard and that’s the way I like it.”
Finishing atop the ladder in both the regular season and in post-season play in the CPBL, Travers is excited about what the new league brought to the table in its inaugural year, and is looking forward to much more as it continues its progression.
“Our record was pretty outstanding,” Travers said. “I thought the league was really good, especially in its first year. We only got to play the Great Lake Canadians four times, so playing the teams that we regularly play, I really like the fact that we actually got to compete for something in the end.
“I thought the league had an awesome first year, and there are definitely improvements we can make going forward to make this league even better. The league is already better than what we came from, but next year and the year after we’ll just keep getting better. There are baseball guys leading it and I would think they’ll make good baseball decisions.”
Seeing the OBJ Steed squad come out on top of the league at the 18U level on Sunday and completing a clean sweep for the program at both of the highest divisions made the win even better for Travers, who couldn’t be happier for the success of the CPBL and the program.
“It’s a testament to all the players and all the families, and how much work the coaches put in,” Travers said. “This is not by accident. The coaches, the families, the players all put in an incredible effort and make incredible sacrifices, and to win them is kind of the reward for that.”
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